Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla claimed the first gold of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics but the spotlight on Saturday was expected to fall on the unified Korean hockey team.
Kalla won the women’s skiathlon cross country race ahead of Norway’s Marit Bjoergen, preventing her from collecting an unprecedented third straight gold medal in the event.
But Bjoergen still became the most decorated woman in Winter Olympics history as she claimed her 11th medal. Third came Finland’s Krista Parmakoski.
The gold medal was one of five on offer on the first day of full competition, in which the unified Korean women’s ice hockey team which make their debut against Switzerland.
The Korean squad have been written off as contenders in the Olympic women’s tournament.
But they symbolise the sense of rapprochement between the two Koreas, highlighted at Friday’s Olympic opening ceremony when athletes from both sides of the heavily fortified border marched together into the stadium for the opening ceremony.
They were watched by the North’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam and the sister of the North leader Kim Jong Un, the first Kim dynasty member to venture south since the 1950-53 Korean War.
The mood of reconciliation strengthened Saturday with North Korea’s Kim inviting South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyeongchang for a summit at the earliest opportunity.
Twelve North Korean hockey players have been drafted in to the South Korean squad to form the unified team but they are not expected to progress in the tournament despite the vocal support from North Korea’s all-female band of cheerleaders.